Stating that the atmosphere of the in-house committee was "frightening", the woman who alleged sexual harassment by the Chief Justice of India has decided not to participate in the proceedings.
In a press release, she has said that she felt "intimidated and nervous in the presence of three Hon'ble Judges of the Supreme Court and without having a lawyer or support person". "I felt I was not likely to get justice from this committee and so I am no longer participating in the 3 Judge Committee proceedings", the complainant said.
She has stated the following factors for her decision:
"1. I have not been allowed to have the presence of my lawyer/support person despite my impaired hearing, nervousness and fear.
2. There being no video or audio recording of the Committee proceedings.
3. I have not been supplied even a copy of my statement as recorded on 26th and 29th April 2019.
4. I was not informed about the procedure this committee is following".
She has also mentioned that the witnesses of her case were staff of the Court and there is no likelihood of them being able to depose fearlessly before the committee. Also, she expressed dissatisfaction about the committee not addressing her demand to follow the procedure under the Vishakha guidelines and the Prevention of Sexual Harassment Against Women at the Workplace Act 2013.
It was on April 23 that a panel of Justices Bobde, Ramana and Indira Banerjee was constituted by the CJI to probe the allegations levelled by the former Junior Court Staff. Later, the woman addressed a letter to Justice Bobde objecting to the inclusion of Justice Ramana in the in-house panel and had claimed that he was a frequent visitor of the residence of the CJI and is a "close friend of the CJI and is like a family member to him".
She had also pointed out that on April 20, the day her affidavit was sent to the Supreme Court judges, Justice Ramana, speaking in Hyderabad, had dismissed her allegations. This led to the recusal of Justice Ramana, who was replaced by Justice Indu Malhotra.
Excerpts from her press release
"In the Committee hearing that took place on 26th April 2019, the Judges in the committee told me that this was neither an in-house committee proceeding, nor a proceeding under the Vishakha Guidelines and that it was an informal proceeding. I was asked to narrate my account which I did to the best of my ability even though I felt quite intimidated and nervous in the presence of three Hon'ble Judges of the Supreme Court and without having a lawyer or support person with me. I had also pointed out to the committee that I had lost hearing in one ear completely due to stress and I was undergoing daily treatment for the same. As a result of this I was sometimes unable to hear what was being dictated by Hon'ble Justice Bobde to the court official as a record of my statements before the committee. Further the committee declined my request for video recording of the committee proceedings.
I was also clearly told that no lawyer/support person could be present with me during the committee hearing. I was orally instructed that I should not disclose the proceedings of the committee to the media and was to not even share the proceedings with my lawyer Advocate Vrinda Grover.
I was asked to appear before the Committee on 29th April for the next hearing". At the first hearing itself I had also placed an application before the Committee to summon the CDR and whatsapp call and chat records of two relevant mobile numbers. However the Committee did not accept my application on the first hearing. The same application was finally taken by the Committee on 30th April 2019, when feeling helpless and distressed I could no longer continue to participate in the Committee hearings.
After I left the first Committee hearing on the first day, I saw that the car I travelling by was being followed by two men on a motorcycle whose partial number I was able to note. Before the next hearing I wrote a detailed letter to the Hon'ble Committee members, narrating all this and again requesting that the proceedings of the committee be treated as a formal inquiry and the Committee follow the letter and spirit of the Prevention of Sexual Harassment of Women at the Workplace Act, and that I be permitted to be accompanied and assisted by Ms V. Grover, that I be allowed to produce evidence both oral and documentary with a right to cross examination and that my applications be taken on record.
In the hearing that followed on the 29th April, I was again not allowed to have a lawyer/support person present with me. I was repeatedly asked by the committee as to why I had made this complaint of sexual harassment so late. I found the atmosphere of the committee very frightening and I was very nervous because of being confronted and questioned by three Supreme Court Judges and without even the presence of my lawyer/support person. Also because of my impaired hearing I was at times unable to follow what was being dictated as my statement.
I was also not shown what was being recorded and no copy of my statement recorded on 26th and 29th April has been given to me till date. I was compelled to walk out of the committee proceedings today because the committee seemed not to appreciate the fact that this was not an ordinary complaint but was a complaint of sexual harassment against a sitting CJI and therefore it was require to adopt procedure that would ensure fairness and equality in the highly unequal circumstances that I am placed.
I had hoped that the approach of the committee towards me would be sensitive and not one that would cause me further fear, anxiety and trauma. I have not been informed if the committee has sought any response from the CJI to my complaint and I have been left guessing and anxious on all these matters".